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Gun Runner enjoys dominant victory in $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic

“We let Gun Runner be who he is,” trainer Steve Asmussen said.

Image: Denis Poroy

GUN RUNNER STAMPED himself America’s horse of the year Saturday with a dominant victory in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic as defending champion Arrogate disappointed.

The Steve Asmussen-trained Gun Runner, who has gone from strength to strength since he was bested by Bob Baffert’s Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup in March, leapt to the front out of the gate.

With jockey Florent Geroux aboard, he held off a challenge from Collected, beating the Baffert-trained colt by 2 1/4 lengths.

Another Baffert-trained 3-year-old, West Coast, was third.

“He knows who he is, and he accepts it, and he feels up to it all the time,” Asmussen said of Gun Runner. “The confidence that he gives you is unbelievable.”

Asmussen said he had no qualms at seeing Gun Runner take an early lead, even though front-runners hadn’t fared well this week.

“We let Gun Runner be who he is,” Asmussen said. “The year that he has put together, the races that he has run, the way that he has come back from them, the way that he trained leading into this race is special.

“The year that this horse has put together is a little hard to top. I think he’s better today than he has ever been.”

That’s something Baffert couldn’t say of Arrogate, who has failed to impress in two defeats since his triumph in Dubai.

“He’s just not the horse he was,” Baffert admitted of Arrogate, who gave Baffert a third straight Classic win at Santa Anita last year.

Arrogate took his record career earnings to $17.4 million with a dead heat for fifth with Gunnevera, behind War Story.

But he left jockey Mike Smith and Baffert puzzling over his seeming inability to get to grips with the Del Mar dirt track, with Baffert saying the trouble was likely deeper.

“He’s just losing interest and I think that’s what it is,” Baffert said. “He has run so many incredible races that I really think he’s just losing interest.

“That’s what it is,” he said again. “It’s time (for him to retire).”

The 1 1/4-mile Classic capped a two-day, 13-race Breeders’ Cup program worth $28 million.

While the showpiece turned into a showcase for US runners — Aidan O’Brien’s Churchill was the top European finisher in seventh — a trans-Atlantic contingent of more than 30 horses found cause to celebrate over the two days.

Andre Fabre, the 27-time champion trainer in France, saddled Talismanic for a convincing victory in the $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf.

“The man is a living legend,” Godolphin chief executive Joe Osborne said of the 71-year-old Fabre. “He has got Breeders’ Cups, Classics, Group Ones.

“He’s just a master trainer and trained this horse perfectly. So, it’s just a great result for us by our stallion, and bred by us and everything. So it just ticks all the boxes.”

Wuheida, trained by Charlie Appleby and ridden by William Buick, won the Filly & Mare Turf.

On Friday, Ireland’s O’Brien extended his record of Group/Grade One victories in a calendar year with his 27th as Mendelssohn won the Juvenile Turf.

A strong European challenge was denied in the $2 million Mile on the turf track, won by the Mark Casse-trained World Approval.

The gray gelding, ridden by John Velazquez, ran down the leaders in the final stages to beat O’Brien’s Lancaster Bomber by 1 1/4 lengths.

At 5-2, he was a rare favorite to come in a winner on a day that saw Bar of Gold, priced at 66-1, win the Filly & Mare Sprint and 30-1 shot Stormy Liberal win the Turf Sprint.

Stormy Liberal gave local trainer Peter Miller a first Breeders’ Cup winner, and Miller soon had another when Roy H triumphed in the Sprint on dirt.

Trainer Chad Brown was a two-time winner on the week as well, his Good Magic taking the $2 million Juvenile after Rushing Fall won the Juvenile Fillies Turf on Friday.

– © AFP 2017

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